This is a simple and personal article on how to reduce stress and live with less anxiety. There are no magic pills but there are reliable principles and practices. They are simple in concept but hard to consistently apply. But they work.
There are a lot of stresses in our lives. As superintendent of a large school I live with a degree of low level stress that can spike significantly depending on people and circumstances. As a human being I am daily confronted with the stresses of daily living—family, financial, social, and physical, not to mention the stress that can be brought to bear from national and international affairs.
As Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But he also said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
I want peace and I bet you do too—especially peace of mind and soul.
Over the last several months the Lord has taught me how to biblically and effectively reduce stress and anxiety. I am learning to be at peace just a Paul learned to be content (Phil. 4:11).
I have come to realize and accept that I cannot avoid situations or people that produce anxiety and stress, I can only respond to them correctly or incorrectly, effectively or ineffectively, biblically or unbiblically.
Here are the simple principles I am learning to practice. Even though the circumstances have not changed, I have experienced much less anxiety when I focus on doing the following things.
Pray for Wisdom
This is a two-fold prayer for wisdom; the wisdom to respond to the situation correctly and the wisdom to deal with difficulties biblically. Wisdom comes from the illumination of the Holy Spirit applying God’s word to our minds, which requires that we make the study and memorization of God’s word a priority in our lives or we cannot have wisdom. Wisdom also comes from the counsel of spiritually mature and biblically literate Christians.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Rom. 12:2
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5 (Note that in context this verse is referring to the wisdom needed to respond to trials properly (See 1:1–4)
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17–18 (Note the characteristics of God-given wisdom)
A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory. Prov. 24:5–6
Learn to Listen
Listening is the handmaiden to wisdom. We cannot grow in wisdom and understanding if we focus on talking and defending. If one is to respond wisely to trials and tribulations brought on by the actions of others we must stop and listen honestly to what others are saying. Seek more to understand than to defend and explain. As Stephen Covey wrote, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.”
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19–20
When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Prov. 10:19
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. Prov. 17:27–28
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. Prov. 27:6
Speak the Truth in Love
People are the primary source of stress and anxiety. Of course, we usually think that other people produce stress and that we don’t. The truth is that we also produce stress for others.
We make two mistakes in responding to the words and actions of others that produce stress in our lives. We avoid speaking the truth so we are not dealing honestly with others. We are avoiding conflict. We are more concerned with being comfortable than we are promoting truth.
Our other mistake is to permit the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. We are quick to speak the truth but we are not motivated by the welfare of the other person; we are motivated by our welfare. We are not speaking the truth in a loving manner.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Eph. 4:15
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Cor. 13:1
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Gal. 6:1
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Just Do the Right Thing
After praying for wisdom to know how to respond and after listening and speaking the truth in love, commit yourself to do the right thing, period. We are not responsible for the actions of others, we are responsible for ours.
But be careful. The right thing may not be what you perceive to be right. The right thing is what is right based on biblical principles and the wise, if uncomfortable, advice of others.
Doing the right thing may cost you. The right thing may require turning the other cheek. The right thing may be graciously and willingly submitting to authority even if you believe that authority is wrong. Doing the right thing may, and often does, require that you humble yourself. Doing the right thing may require giving up your rights, denying yourself. Doing the right thing most certainly requires holding your tongue and not gossiping about others and how they are mistreating you.
Just do what is right. We cannot control what others do. We can seldom control our circumstances. What we can control, as a Fruit of the Spirit, are our words and actions.
But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. Matt. 5:39–42
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor. James 4:10–12
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Phil. 2:3–4
Trust the Lord’s Providence
After praying for wisdom, listening to others, speaking the truth in love, and then doing the right thing—leave the outcome to God’s wisdom, goodness, and providence. You have done what you can and should do, you must trust in and be willing to accept God’s providence even if it is a frowning one.
God does not promise that if we do the right things others will do right by us. He does not promise that if we do the right thing he will prevent bad things from happening to us. To the contrary, the Bible is very clear—the righteous often suffer unjustly. Accept it. Expect it. Even embrace it as good for you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2ff
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Pet. 5:5–7
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:5–7
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins. Lam. 3:37–38
In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider:God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:14
But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1ff
Life is full of trouble and turmoil but our hearts and minds do not need to be troubled. We can reduce stress and anxiety in our lives but only if we apply biblical principles to our thoughts and actions:
- Pray for Wisdom
- Learn to Listen
- Speak the Truth in Love
- Do the Right Thing
- Trust the Lord’s Providence
If you and I will learn to consistently apply these principles then we can learn:
not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:5–7